Twenty leading youth sector organisations, including the National Youth Agency, OnSide, Groundwork, UK Youth, Scouts, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the Network of Regional Youth Work Units, are calling upon the government to recognise the professional value of youth work and the positive impact it has on young people’s outcomes through the publication of a Roadmap to a National Youth Strategy. The Roadmap, which has been developed by youth sector experts within the National Youth Sector Advisory Board (NYSAB), aims to ensure all young people can access quality youth work to promote their mental health and wellbeing, develop their life skills, help them have a voice on decisions that affect them and realise their full potential.
The Roadmap to a National Youth Strategy calls for immediate action to rebuild the youth sector in order to level the playing field and help stem the country’s burgeoning mental health crisis – with 18% of children aged seven to 16 and 22% of young people aged 17 to 24 having a probable mental health disorder in 2022.1
It responds to the fact that since 2010 there has been a £1 billion real terms cut in spending by local authorities on youth services, which has resulted in fragmented provision, a recruitment and retention crises, and youth work as a profession being overlooked and misunderstood.
The Roadmap sets out recommendations for national government to bring about a step-change in the way that youth work is recognised and to get youth work better integrated into local strategies and multi-agency pathways to support young people.
The publication of the NYSAB’s Roadmap considers the strengthened statutory guidance for local authorities (in respect of youth work) expected to be announced by the government soon. The Roadmap stresses that local authorities must be given the financial means and resource to fulfil their duty and that there is a clear accountability framework for the National Youth Guarantee and for reviewing the quality of local youth offers.
Long-term funding and a clearer commitment to the youth sector and youth work are fundamental components of the Roadmap to a National Youth Strategy. Releasing funding from long-term funding pots such as Dormant Assets is one solution, as is the notion of a cross-departmental approach to funding, which would include the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Education, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Department for Health and Social Care and Cabinet Office and other government departments. The Board also recommends that funding is earmarked for research to build the evidence-base of the impact of youth work, in order to inform any change in policy or local commissioning.
Upskilling the existing workforce, training volunteers and attracting new entrants to the youth sector is fundamental to the NYSAB’s vision. The introduction of a Teach First-style training programme, as well as a national recruitment campaign for youth work are recommended.
Ensuring that a wide cross-section of young people are meaningfully involved in shaping policies and co-designing initiatives, programmes and services that impact them (known as ‘youth participation’) is a key tenet of youth work. To this end, young people were consulted about their needs and aspirations for youth work to inform the Roadmap. Tackling barriers to access – whether that’s by improving transport to their nearest youth provision, or by ensuring that all youth work is welcoming to young people with protected characteristics, from marginalised communities or for those with disabilities – was identified as a priority. The NYSAB recommends expanding the National Youth Guarantee beyond out of school activities to include youth work and youth provision to ensure there is equitable and targeted provision to meet the needs of young people in every area.
Tony Gallagher, chair of the NYSAB, a former Her Majesty’s Inspector said: “Youth workers across the country transform the lives of young people through an educational framework which supports wellbeing, builds resilience and develops essential life skills. Whilst budgets have been cut over the past decade, local authorities and the voluntary sector have continued to respond to need with diminishing funds. We know that excellent youth work is taking place across the country, but the value of youth work to young people’s outcomes just isn’t sufficiently recognised by policy makers and allied professionals.
“The NYSAB’s Roadmap to a National Youth Strategy sets out a bold ambition for youth work to be given its rightful place at the table, together with the investment needed to build the capacity of the workforce, strengthen the evidence-base and create the policies needed to formally integrate youth work practice into wider youth strategies.”